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by victoria pesce elliott | February 21, 2012 | Food & Drink
The dining room at the Delano’s new Bianca restaurant
|Chef Brian Massie|
|Burrata and prosciutto, with grilled bread, olive oil, and sea salt|
South Beach is a place for reinvention, escape, and starting over. Just ask anyone who has witnessed the many incarnations of the Delano’s Blue Door. When Ian Schrager first revealed the eye-boggling Delano in its all-white Deco glory in the summer of 1995 (after a $22 million renovation), it was the South Beach spot. Calvin Klein called it “the best hotel in the world,” and Madonna was rumored to be a partner in the iconic hotel’s signature restaurant, the Blue Door, with New York pal Brian McNally. The menu featured petite portions of aggressively priced dishes, such as roast duck in sour cherry sauce on jalapeño corn bread. Back then, tuna tartare with quail egg was a novelty. Guests, who all at least behaved as if they were somebody, seemed to guzzle more Champagne than water.
In 1997, China Grill Management took over the Delano’s food and beverage operations, bringing in chef Claude Troisgros of the famous Roanne, France, cooking family to revamp a restaurant for which people-watching was a key design feature. A central corridor split the dining room, allowing a constant parade of local color, donning everything from Brazilian bikinis to fur coats to bespoke suits. The following year, Esquire named Blue Door its “Best New Restaurant of the Year,” praising the jumbo ravioli filled with taro-root mousseline and white truffle oil as “wonderfully conceived.”
As wonderful as it was, in Miami, reinvention is the rule. The Delano parted ways with China Grill Management in 2011, bringing in The Light Group, which owns and operates some 15 Las Vegas clubs and restaurants. The company was actually cofounded by Andrew Sasson, once a fixture on the South Beach nightlife scene, where he worked the door at famed hot spots including Velvet before building a nightclub empire of his own. Bianca, which now replaces Blue Door, will be the marquee dining experience of the hotel, and is touted as “inventive Italian.” The reinvention concept here is pervasive, with South Beach’s own prodigal son, Chris Paciello, on board as marketing consultant. The “inventiveness” of the Italian will come from the mind of chef Brian Massie, who directs the culinary output among the property’s five food outlets, from room service to the pool. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Massie trained with the virtuoso (and telegenic) Lidia Bastianich, and in Erbusco, Italy, under Gualtiero Marchesi.
Massie brings solid skills as well as a real bend-over-backwards mentality when it comes to hospitality. “We are cooking to bring people back. If people want the crab avocat [a signature from the old menu], I will give it to them. If they want peanut butter and jelly, it is not for me to say no. I might cut off the crusts and stack it club-sandwich style, but ‘no’ is not really in my vocabulary.” And what people want in this, the most image-conscious of towns, he figures, is light, clean cooking. “This is not going to be Vegas-y steak-and-potatoes food.” Though not a heavy pasta-driven menu, there will be elegant creations like delicate pillows of lobster ravioli in Champagne-sparked cream sauce, and simple yet spectacular appetizers such as burrata and prosciutto with grilled bread.
Massie has singled out signatures like a classic, salt-crusted, grilled branzino. “Our style is different,” explains the fast-talking New York native. “It is lighter, refreshing, more Sardinian. I like to use fresh aromatics in fish from the Mediterranean. Lots of fresh lemons and thyme.” Communal dining is also a retro holdover here. In the place of the old Blue Sea sits Umi Sushi & Sake Bar, where strangers can sip sake and nibble hand rolls at the marble bar. Although the dining room’s stunning whiteon- white aesthetic has largely survived (albeit with nips and tucks here and there), Bianca’s facelift takes the restaurant from light to luscious. The new space, designed by Sam Robin Inc., is larger and more airy with the removal of the wall that once separated the formal dining room from the lobby. Deep, clubby seats rest on highly polished wood floors the color of gold, while various green tones add a fun contrast. The white curtains that once shrouded the identities of diners the likes of Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé have been replaced with shimmering gold linen. Exotic Southeast Asian pillars and antique Italian furnishings lend age and warmth to what was once cool as ice.
Other reissues include the meetfor- a-drink standard Rose Bar, a pocket-sized niche that was always packed with posh and posers alike. It has received a total renovation with rich upholstery and deeper palette of colors. And of course, after-hours continue at what was once Lenny Kravitz’s beloved Florida Room. The basement space is dubbed FDR—a fitting reminder that the hotel was, after all, named for the threeterm (four if you count the one he began before his death) Depression-era president.
And so the South Beach tradition of reinvention continues, even at its most storied of venues. The democracy of our taste buds will determine whether Bianca gets more than one term. 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-674-6400
photographs by darren trentacosta